Swagger returns as Arizona 'Air Raid' gets back on track
By DAVID BRANDT
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Kyler Murray was flinging the ball around the field, DeAndre Hopkins was making difficult catches and veteran Larry Fitzgerald even got in on the act with an impressive grab for his first touchdown of the season.
Arizona's "Air Raid" is back. So is confidence that the Cardinals can make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Arizona's 33-26 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday was a hard-fought win. The Cardinals (8-6) jumped out to a 16-0 lead late in the first quarter, but the Eagles eventually rallied to tie the game at 26 in the third quarter. Murray's 20-yard touchdown to Hopkins, who corralled another highlight-reel reception, was the go-ahead score and the defense was able to hold on in the final minutes.
"I like (Hopkins) versus anybody and I like me to put the ball where it needs to be," Murray said grinning.
That kind of swagger had been missing from the Cardinals in recent weeks, when moving the ball on offense was often a chore. But Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards against the Eagles and despite a few mistakes, was back to looking like an elite starter.
Now the Cardinals are all alone in the No. 7 and final spot in the NFC playoff race. There are multiple scenarios that get them into the playoffs, but one is the most simple: Beat the 49ers and Rams, and Arizona's in.
The Cardinals continue to generate a consistent pass rush, even without 2019 All-Pro Chandler Jones, who is out for the season with an injury. Haason Reddick and Dennis Gardeck continue to have breakout seasons. Reddick has a career-high 11 sacks while Gardeck had two on Sunday to push his total to seven.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Arizona's pass defense was a little shaky against Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts, who threw for three touchdowns in just his second career start. Cornerback Patrick Peterson got called for two pass interference penalties on one drive and the Cardinals got caught out of position multiple times, including on Quez Watkins' 32-yard touchdown.
Still, the Cardinals did enough to win.
"In the course of a season there will always be games like this," Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "As a team trying to do what we are doing and trying to get where we are trying to get, you got to be able to pull these types of games out."
Fitzgerald. The veteran receiver caught his first touchdown pass of the season on Sunday, snagging a 14-yard throw from Murray in the back of the end zone. It was Fitzgerald's second game back after missing two games with COVID-19 issues and the Cardinals' offense runs much better when he's on the field. Fitzgerald might not be the big-play threat he once was, but the 36-year-old is really good at settling into gaps of the defense and picking up 8 to 10 yards per catch.
Having Hopkins and Fitzgerald on the field certainly hasn't hurt Murray's development.
"You see them every day in practice, two of the best ever, when you are talking about hands," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "You put them up against anybody, those two guys. Just get it close and they make incredible catches all day, every day, one-handed. Whether it is warming up or not."
Peterson. The veteran cornerback's two pass interference penalties were key in an Eagles' touchdown drive, even though one of them looked like a tough call. The three-time All-Pro still makes his fair share of plays, but it's become obvious that opposing teams are unafraid of challenging the 30-year-old downfield.
TE Maxx Williams (ankle) missed the second half. He's been hurt for much of the season and had just recently returned to the lineup.
26 - It didn't result in a touchdown, but Andy Lee's 26-yard pass to Zeke Turner on a fake punt was a thing of beauty.
"He threw it before (Turner) was even looking which is insane," Kingsbury said. "So his throw was a 10 out of a 10. I thought there was no way we were hitting that. He wasn't even looking at the ball but it was perfect."
The Cardinals play their final home game against the fading 49ers (5-9) on Saturday. If they take care of business, a pivotal season finale against the Rams awaits.
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Updated December 21, 2020